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by Keavin Wiggins

Since we launched this series earlier this year we have received over a hundred submissions for bands to feature here, while all were worthy for inclusion, we look for some special qualities when deciding on who to feature. One of the most important is that the band has a unique sound and of course strong songwriting. Another consideration is where the band comes from. We’ve covered bands from Southern California to England. We try to capture what kinds of bands are having an impact in the various music scenes across the globe.  We could fill these pages with unsigned bands who are simply copying what is on the charts but what fun would that be? We’re looking for artists that have music that will cause people to pay attention. With that in mind, we look for bands from all areas of rock, from metal to folksy blues. So you may love a band that is featured this month and take a pass on next months group, but the goal is cover the entire Rocknworld of music. 

This month we venture to New England to catch up with Rob Parise and Karl Uftring, a dynamic musical duo that goes by the name of Driftwood. One of the things that I liked about this group was the fact that it wasn’t easy to nail down what kind of band they are. The music isn’t so mellow that it will put you to sleep and not so heavy that you’ll slam your foot on the accelerator and mow down pedestrians, if you listen to them in your car. It’s really a balancing act between the two extremes. You find elements of a lot of music here from classic rock to alternative; they blend them together to create the Driftwood sound. So with out further ado, let’s get to know Rob and Karl and discover the musical world of Driftwood. 

RNW: Where did the name Driftwood come from?

Driftwood: The two of us (Rob Parise and Karl Uftring) have been playing together for so long that we finally decided to take this seriously, and it was time for a new name and new focus.  One day we were down at the James River, talking about our passion, the future of our music, and whether or not we have what it takes to submerge ourselves in our dream full time. We saw pieces of driftwood floating down the river, bouncing off rocks with no apparent direction.  We realized that had been us for so long, and the name just seemed appropriate representing who we were and where we were headed.

RNW:  How did you guys come together? Can you give us a brief history of the group to this point?

Driftwood: We’ve known each other almost all of our lives, growing up together in Long Island and introducing each other to different styles of music while playing in a number of bands. Karl went to college to continue to study music, and I went to architecture school, as we continued to perform and dream of making music for a living.  After we graduated Karl moved to Richmond and I moved back to New York City to pursue architecture. One day Karl called and asked me to sit in on a few gigs he'd lined up in Virginia.  At this point it had been several years since we'd played together live, but it was great, and we both found ourselves again.  We realized this is what we were meant to do.  I guess we never really had any doubts that one-day we would reunite and pursue our dream of creating music that we are both proud of. It just took a phone call to make it happen.

RNW:  What was your goal musically when you put Driftwood together?

Driftwood: We always had songs.  The goal was to use all of our influences, and contribute equally from our experiences to create music that we are proud of and that we can bring to as many people as possible.  We never set out to create a style. The style was already there.  The challenge was, and always will be, to focus that without compromising our integrity as musicians and songwriters.

RNW:  How would you describe your music to someone who hasn't heard it?

Driftwood:  It doesn’t really describe the sound but we'll say it's honest, and emotional music.  Lyrically and musically we’re putting ourselves out there with Driftwood.  People have been responding to that.  We've been described as acoustic rock with an edge.  That is somewhat of an oversimplification.  We like to think that the music has the complexity of a singer/songwriter with the musical accessibility of pop and rock.  Melody and dynamics are two things that we believe are an integral part in every song we write. At the same time having something to say and drawing from some emotion is equally important.

RNW:   If you had to pick only one song for people to get a general idea of what Driftwood is all about, which song would it be and why that song?

Driftwood: We have over 30 songs not on our EP, so that is a difficult question. Right now, the song “Down” best captures what Driftwood is all about. It has the acoustic drive as well as the melody and dynamics, which as we mentioned earlier are essential elements to us. However, we think each new song we write becomes the song that we are about as we continue to evolve.  The song we write tomorrow will be the song that represents us on that day.

RNW:   You guys hail from the Virginia music scene; can you tell us a little about that scene, how active is it? What kinds of music are prevalent?

Driftwood: In terms of size and activity, it’s not much different that what you’d see in any urban area.  It’s so diverse, though, and you can see there’s something about Richmond that has proven really inspirational to musicians.  There have been successful musicians to come out of Richmond, and there will continue to be.  The cost of living here is much different than in NY, and we have the opportunity to create our music.  We also have the freedom of the geography to be able to travel anywhere along the east coast and tap into our NY and Boston fan bases.  Part of the beauty of Richmond is the size.  We are able to be the big fish in the small pond, as opposed to NY, where there are 150,000 bands.  The fans in Richmond have really embraced us.  They are looking for the next big thing, but we are still new to the scene, so only time will tell how this will all turn out.  As far as activity, we are performing regularly to enthusiastic crowds and that is all we could have ever hoped for.  Right now, the prevalent music seems to be whatever genre is popular.  There will always be bands that are going to try and emulate the sound of the day.  Richmond has these bands, but it also has bands that are creating their own sound and this creates a diverse musical scene.

RNW:  Do you play many gigs?

Driftwood: As many as we can.  We’ve been lucky lately and have gotten off to a really good start. We’ve been getting a lot of great bookings and the fans have been coming out and giving us back everything we give them. It’s a great feeling for us.  We play everywhere and anywhere we can if it means we can reach someone new with our music.

RNW:  Do many outside of VA?

Driftwood: Yeah, things are starting to happen.  We have a bunch of great gigs set up in New York, Boston, Pennsylvania.  We can’t wait for more, and our focus is to get our music out to as many people as we can.  Having a loyal fan base already established in NY and Boston is great, because we know we can travel to the northeast and have as many people come to see us as in our hometown.  Our goal is to make this happen is as many cities as possible.

RNW: What are your main influences?

Driftwood: Our influences are as great and varied as our CD collection.  We really do pull our inspiration from a lot of sources.  People have said they hear Toad the Wet Sprocket or the Replacements in our sound, and there were years at a time when we couldn't get their CD’s out of our players.  Both are huge inspirations to us. To be able to touch people so deeply with your art lyrically and musically the way the Red House Painters or Ani DiFranco do is what we strive for.  But there really are so many more.  We can find inspiration in art, architecture, literature, a conversation with the old man at the end of the bar.  We believe all of these things influence what you create.

RNW:  Do you have any plans to record a full-length album in the near future?

Driftwood: Right now we’re planning on September.  We really can’t wait to get back in the studio  and record more songs.  We think people will get a much better feel for what Driftwood is all about listening to a 15 song CD as opposed to a 3 song EP, and that is our motivating force right now.  Being an “unsigned hero” has its financial disadvantages, and the time needs to be right before we can return to the studio.  It is hard at times when we are doing it all ourselves; paying for the studio time, engineers, and materials out of pocket. It really requires a planning that we are not accustomed to.  Our main goal right now is to continue to tour and play for as many people as we can, unless you are offering us a record deal, in which case the answer is tomorrow.  We certainly have enough material to go in now and come out with two full length CD's

RNW:  It has to be tough for a band from Virginia to get the attention of record labels, what have you guys done as far trying to secure a deal?

Driftwood: Yeah it is tough. Probably as tough as it is for a band from anywhere else.  It may even be easier in some respects than it would be in a bigger city with more competition.  For the most part, playing shows and getting the word out about the EP is our main focus.  Of course we have and will continue to send material to the labels with the hopes of securing a deal.  We understand that record companies get thousands of CD’s and we will continue to be one of those thousand until we prove to the labels, through fan support and hard work that we can sell records, which is every record companies goal.

RNW:  What's the goal as far as career goes? Are you looking towards a major label with hopes they will use their resources to break you guys big? Or are you interested in an indie label that offers more artistic freedom?

Driftwood: To be able to play music for a living is our goal.  To get our music out to as many people as possible and to maintain our financial stability.  Of course, we would love a major label deal, but not at the cost of sacrificing our musical integrity.  Unfortunately, indie labels do not have the same resources as a major label.  It really is a tough question, and luckily no one has offered us anything yet, and the decision has been easy so far.  Seriously, no amount of money or exposure is worth compromising what Driftwood is all about.  Wait, how much money are we talking about?

RNW:  Back to the EP - Obviously the title came from the song of the same name "Ruins and Landscapes" can you tell us a little about what that song is about?

Driftwood: It’s really about self-reflection and looking ahead.  The ruins of the past and the landscapes yet to come.  Life is a constant journey.  The song uses the metaphor of driving to represent moving through life and how you can look back and see the things you have destroyed and the things you have created.  The element of time does not exist when you are looking back through your own life.  That’s what it means to us anyway.  The most interesting thing about finally being able to share our music is to see how it affects others and how they interpret the songs.

RNW:  While we're at it let's discuss the other two songs. Can you tell us a little about "and now" and "kaleidoscope"?

Driftwood: Ultimately, a lot of our music deals with loss and the aspects of the human condition.  Briefly, And Now is the story of a man looking in the mirror who can no longer stand himself.  Through no fault of his own, he has become a version of himself that he can no longer recognize and he doesn’t know how to get back.  Kaleidoscope is obviously about change. As you turn the wheel of a kaleidoscope, everything you see changes. This is the case with life. It is not until you see someone else changing that you realize you are constantly evolving as well.

RNW: The CD features an unusual cover, where did the artwork come from?
Driftwood: We thought before we started that designing our own CD artwork was an important part in capturing the emotions of the songs. We wanted to represent the true essence of what Ruins and Landscapes meant to us. By using a modern ruin on the cover, we were able to link to a past that at times seems distant, bringing us back to the roots of the emotions that created the songs.

RNW:  More and more bands are releasing CD's on their own, do you think the landscape of music is heading towards an environment that will allow bands to be more "do it yourself" without the need for labels and the big machinery behind them?

Driftwood: Yes, although that really depends on the degree of success you wish to attain.  Anyone can make a CD right now.  We are counting on the fact that a band can acquire a measure of success by doing this on their own.  As the technology becomes more and more accessible, more bands will be able to release their own CD’s.  But, we still found the need to head to a big studio to attain the level of quality we feel our work and our fans deserve. This is all part of the process.  There will always be a need for financial backing and corporate connections if the ultimate goal is mainstream radio play. Ani DiFranco and Jonatha Brooke were able to create their own labels and attain a great level of success without mainstream radio backing.  It would be hard to not call them successful.

RNW: On that same note, has the internet helped you guys in gaining exposure for your band?

Driftwood: It’s been a really powerful tool in terms of getting the word out to our fans. In turn they have been using it to spread the word to others.  It's really an amazing atmosphere to be part of.  We are still in the infancy stages of utilizing the internet to it’s fullest potential but it’s really cool to receive guestbook entries on our website from places like Spain or Texas, two places we’ve never even been.  It would have been impossible for something like that to happen ten or fifteen years ago. It's also helped us in bookings. We've been able to put song clips and mp3 files up for prospective venues to check out. We've booked shows via e-mail, without ever picking up the phone.

RNW:  Where do you hope to be in say five years?

Driftwood: Performing.  In ten years?  Performing.  We just hope to be able to create and perform music for as long as we can.  There is nothing else we would rather be doing.

RNW:  What is your dream tour, what artist or group would you most like to play with?

Driftwood: Our dream tour would be headlining mid-sized venues. Of all the concerts we've been to, the most memorable ones are the intimate ones we left feeling like we were part of something special.  As for artists we would like to tour with, The Verve (r.i.p.) or else someone who’s not very good but has a lot of fans so we could blow them off the stage.  Seriously, Tom Waits, Paul Westerberg, Glen Phillips, Eminem, Ani DiFranco, Counting Crows, David Gray, The Eels, Flaming Lips, Air Supply, Jonatha Brooke, Red House Painters, etc…(there are so many more)

RNW: Finally, what do you hope people take away from your music?

Driftwood: A greater appreciation for everything they have and a greater desire to pursue the things they wish they did have.  This is our dream. Without dreams you have nothing.  If we inspire one person to chase their dreams, they have taken away what we hoped to give them.

Ok now that you know a little about Driftwood it is time to go to their website and learn more, listen to some of their songs, buy their CD, check for concert dates and more!

Know of a great unsigned artist or band? Let us know. 

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